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Visual Excess Dims ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

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CHICAGO – The anticipation of experiencing the rebooted crew of the starship Enterprise now may overwhelm any creative team’s ability to deliver to that anticipation. “Star Trek Into Darkness” piles on the space war excess, while lessening the savory humanity and memorable characters.

After successfully relaunching and rebooting the characters and universe of Star Trek in 2009, the team of screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and director J.J. Abrams have serious “Iron Man 2” syndrome in the follow-up – the tendency to emphasize the larger-than-life gadgets and effects over the smaller-than-life interactions of the humans operating the machines. What makes it a bit frustrating is that they nailed the first one so well, that evolving to the second adventure was an anticipatory slam dunk. There are many fine moments involving the Enterprise crew, but those tasty bits are covered with the fake butter of a franchise summer movie. It tastes vaguely the same but at the same time causes some serious heartburn.

The film begins with the crew of the starship Enterprise doing an exploratory mission on a planet with an barely civilized society. Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is trying to prevent a volcanic disaster, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) are running from the natives. They manage to save Spock from imminent death, but not without revealing the starship to a population who have just discovered fire.

Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine
Spock (Zachary Quinto), Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Kirk (Chris Pine) in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

This gets a reassignment of both Spock and Kirk by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller). Pike will take over the Enterprise for a mission having to do with a terrorist act in London. It is a manhunt for the fugitive Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is part of a super evolved human race that has been in space exile. When Pike is put out of action, it is up to the reformation of Spock and Kirk to stop this predatory being.

Yes, Khan is in this adventure, just like the second Star Trek film (“Wrath of Khan”) from long ago. The decision to do this seems natural, but there is a feeling that the reboot is losing an opportunity to go their own way. Bringing in Khan invites comparisons to the former film (a classic) and Benedict Cumberbatch to Ricardo Montalban (the original Khan). While Cumberbatch has proved himself to be a consummate character actor, he is conflicted and misaligned in this assignment, with the script doing him no favors. It’s a different Khan, in a different universe, but he’s not as good.

There is the Star Trek characteristic of symbolically integrating their “adventure” with a larger issue in the film, but it doesn’t ring as sound as their other attempts, both in all the series and movies. It is a terrorist act in the story that could percolate a larger war, with the background of neoconservative drum beating to start that war. There is no problem with pointing that out again, yet the theme has been done better – and less awkwardly – elsewhere. An exploration of the motivations of terrorists could have been more interesting, but that would involve nuance, and space battles would less likely occur – just like real life.

But all is not lost. Simon Pegg should have his own film as Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. He has a field day running to fix things – in fact there is a bunch of running, jumping and dangling in this film – and his natural tendency toward comedy makes the character richer, especially with his rock man sidekick (a great addition in the reboot). Kirk, Spock and Bones get lost a bit in the emphasis shuffle, but each have their moments, although it may be time to retire the “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a…,” unless they can come up with better punchlines.

Alice Eve, Chris Pine
Warm Gun: Weapons Expert Dr. Marcus (Alice Eve) Consults Captain Kirk in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

There is some much needed sex in this adventure, the introduction of a familiar Jim Kirk lover (Alice Eve), including a gratuitous image of her in underwear, comic book nerd style. One of the ways director J.J. Abrams and company congratulated themselves in the last film was their emphasis on strong women, and here the emphasis is on strong women who favor Victoria Secret garments…not that there’s anything wrong with this. Ah, nerd boys.

This is amplified adrenalin for effects junkies (in optional 3D!) and a diminishing return for hard core Trekkers. In the hyper analysis on which way to go, dammit, I’m a film critic, not a committee of movie franchise profiteers trying to fill summer seats. I guess I need a better punchline as well.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” is in theaters everywhere. See local listings for 3D show times and theaters. Featuring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Bruce Greenwood and Benedict Cumberbatch. Screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Mr. Leland's picture

Much Needed Sex

Great point. It looks like it will be a running gag with Kirk bedding stranger and stranger iterations of intergalactic barflies.

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